SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Army Pfc. Roberto Rivera was in his bedroom when Hurricane Maria moved into the municipality of Naguabo, Puerto Rico.
"I was at home, trying to sleep," said Rivera, 20. "Then, I heard a loud boom. When I got up and looked, all the windows in the house were starting to explode."
The pressure of the storm had shattered the glass and flung all of the doors of the house off their hinges, he said.
Hurricane Maria ‘destroyed everything'
"The wind blew all of the rain inside the house and destroyed everything," Rivera said.
Rivera and his father rushed his mom, sister and dog into the only room in the house that was not damaged. They all took shelter there until the storm passed.
When the rain and wind finally stopped, Rivera did not have any time to process what had just happened. He is a military police officer with the 480th Military Police Company in the Puerto Rico Army National Guard and his neighbors desperately needed him.
"As soon as the hurricane was over, I (went) in," Rivera said.
One of Rivera's first missions in the aftermath of Maria was the rescue operation at Levittown, where floodwaters trapped residents.
The water had risen so high that only heavy-duty military vehicles could pass through, said Army Sgt. Milton Serrano, Rivera's supervisor.
Rivera and others from his unit rescued over 300 residents from the dangerous situation.
"I just believe people need more help than I do," Rivera said. "A lot of people need our help and I joined to serve."
Since Hurricane Maria, Rivera has become part of the Governor's Package, a unit of 20 Soldiers who are under the direction of Army Brig. Gen. Jose Reyes, the adjutant general of the Puerto Rico National Guard, and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, governor of Puerto Rico.
"We have been doing almost everything," said 1st Lt. William Godalupe, commanding officer of the 480th MP Company and the officer in charge of the Governor's Package.
Post-hurricane relief missions
The Soldiers have been running convoy operations as well as other various tasks as directed for the last 52 days since the storm, Godalupe said.
Rivera is enjoying his time with the unit, and actually sees serving as a way of escape.
"[My unit] is like a family to me," Rivera said. "They're always joking around. It's a way to relieve the mind."
Rivera plans to stay on active duty until the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico are complete and is trying to financially support the rebuilding of his family home.
Once the work on his house is finished, Rivera wants to go to the mainland United States and earn a degree in criminal justice to become a Customs and Border Protection agent.
"He's committed to the Army, to the citizens and lives the Army values 200 percent," said Godalupe about Rivera. "It's a privilege to lead that kind of Soldier."